It was not a good week to be a frontrunner in the SEC. Five teams — all of whom were favored to win in Week 8 — were ranked in the top 15 and lost. That includes wins by Tennessee and Vanderbilt over ranked opponents for the first time in 20 and 17 games, respectively.
Meanwhile, Alabama looks like it is getting better each week, and Mizzou proved it could handle the loss of a star quarterback. With all of the talk surrounding the SEC about elite offenses, it's worth noting that the two unbeatens and division leaders are two teams who boast the best defenses in the conference.
Alabama (7-0, 4-0): While the rest of the top SEC teams dropped like flies in Week 8, Alabama cruised to an 11th straight win. AJ McCarron was efficient (15-of-21, 180 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions) and didn't play past the halfway point of the third quarter. The running game was unstoppable: T.J. Yeldon (88 yards, one touchdown), Kenyan Drake (104 yards, two touchdowns) and Derrick Henry (111 yards, touchdown) led a rushing attack that averaged nealy 10 yards per carry on 37 attempts (352 yards). Defensively, the Tide suffocated the Hogs to the tune of zero points, 256 yards and three turnovers. Next Week: Tennessee
Missouri (7-0, 3-0): Maty Mauk got his first career start in place of the injured James Franklin, and he was nothing short of brilliant. He threw for nearly 300 yards and acounted for two touchdowns. Mizzou's front line was dominant all afternoon, pressuring Florida's Tyler Murphy and holding the Gators to 59 yards on 31 attempts (1.9 yards per carry). Henry Josey was brilliant in his own right, rushing for 136 yards and a third-quarter touchdown in the win. The Tigers outgained the Gators 500-151. Gary Pinkel has now defeated Georgia and Florida in back-to-back weeks with South Carolina and Tennesse coming to town in the next two games. The Tigers are in clear control of the SEC East. Next Week: South Carolina
LSU (6-2, 3-2): LSU was outgained 525 yards to 388 and quarterback Zach Mettenberger threw three interceptions as the Tigers were toppled by Ole Miss on the road this weekend. The Bayou Bengals averaged just 3.3 yards per carry on 35 attempts as the Rebels were able to get just enough stops on defense to pull the upset. Mettenberger led the Tigers down the field to tie the game with minutes left on the clock, but the defense wasn't able to keep Ole Miss from driving into field goal range and drilling the game-winner as time expired. Next Week: Furman
Auburn (6-1, 3-1): Nick Marshall did his best Johnny Manziel impersonation by throwing for 236 yards and two scores as well as rushing for 100 yards and two touchdowns in the thrilling road win over Texas A&M. No team in the nation has turned its fortunes around quicker than the Tigers. After going winless in the SEC a year ago, Gus Malzahn has Auburn pointed toward competing for an SEC West championship in just one season. His team rolled up 615 yards of offense in College Station and was able to drive the ball 75 yards in the final minutes to take a four point lead with just over a minute to play. A defensive redzone stand against Manziel capped the back-and-forth affair in "instant classic" fashion. Malzahn needs to be mentioned in the National Coach of the Year discussion. Next Week: Florida Atlantic
South Carolina (5-2, 3-2): After the most complete performance of the year against Arkansas, Steve Spurrier watched his offense stub its toe all afternoon long in Neyland Stadium. Gritty quarterback Connor Shaw, who threw his first interception of the season, left the game with a left knee sprain. However, the worst is expected as he left the stadium on crutches and in an aircast. And Carolina's SEC East title hopes might have left with him. The Cocks have two losses and will travel to face unbeaten Mizzou in Week 9 in a battle of backup quarterbacks in Columbia. Next Week: at Missouri
Texas A&M (5-2, 3-2): Despite more than 500 yards of offense and five touchdowns from Manziel, the Aggies defense couldn't get a stop. The defense allowed 379 yards rushing and 6.3 yards per carry to Auburn, including a 13-play, 75-yard run-heavy drive to win the game. Manziel, who hurt his throwing shoulder in the second half, led the Aggies down the field and was poised to perform yet another miracle but was sacked on back-to-back plays to end the game. The Aggies get three straight games at home before heading on the road against LSU and Missouri to finish the season. Next Week: Vanderbilt
Florida (4-3, 3-2): For the second straight week, the Gators offense struggled to score points or move the ball consistently in a road conference loss. In fact, Kelvin Taylor's first career touchdown run in the third quarter was the first offensive touchdown for Florida since the 4:47 mark of the Arkansas game three weeks ago. Will Muschamp's team gained just 151 yards of offense, turned the ball over three times, had just 11 first downs and was penalized eight times. If Tyler Murphy cannot improve his decision-making, the Gators could be in for a rough second half of the season. Next Week: Bye
Georgia (4-3, 3-2): Aaron Murray's lack of supporting cast dictated another outcome for a snake-bit Georgia team. A second critical late-game Brenden Douglas fumble packaged with a fumbled snap on a punt led to 17 unanswered points for Vanderbilt in the fourth quarter. Georgia has now lost two in a row in the division and will get a much-needed off weekend to rest and get healthy before it faces Florida in the Cocktail Party in two weeks. Next: Bye
Ole Miss (4-3, 2-3): The Rebels limped to the finish of the toughest portion of their schedule with a 1-3 mark, but with a win nonetheless. Ole Miss took advantage of bad throws by LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger by intercepting the Tigers three times. The Rebs missed a golden opportunity to put the game away and had to watch LSU march the length of the field to tie the game with just minutes left on the clock. Bo Wallace was up to the challenge, however, as he worked Mississippi into position to kick the game-winning field goal as time expired. Next Week: Idaho
Tennessee (4-3, 1-2): The Volunteers had lost 19 consecutive games against ranked opponents since it defeated South Carolina in 2009. That streak ended when Tennessee kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired in front of a jubilant Neyland Stadium. The defense was solid, allowing just 325 yards of total offense and forcing two critical turnovers, but Marquez North was the star of the day. His aerial acrobatics were on full display all afternoon but he saved his best for the game's final drive. His electric one-handed catch down the left sideline put UT into field goal range. This still isn't a great team but it certainly competes at a high level week in and week out. Next Week: at Alabama
Vanderbilt (4-3, 1-3): The Commodores hadn't beat a ranked opponent in six seasons and hadn't topped Georgia at home since 1991. Both of those streaks were snapped when the Dores capitalized on more Bulldogs special teams errors by outscoring Georgia 17-0 in the final quarter. Like the rest of the SEC East, Vandy suffered a key injury when it lost starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels in the second quarter. The resilient Vandy offense rallied around replacement Patton Robinette, and the Dores eventually persevered for their first win over a ranked opponent in 16 tries. Next Week: at Texas A&M
Mississippi State (3-3, 0-2): Dan Mullen's bunch watched the mayhem in the SEC from the couch this weekend as the Bulldogs were on bye. The maligned coaching staff begins a critical second half with a must-win home game against the Wildcats. Next Week: Kentucky
Arkansas (3-5, 0-4): Bret Bielema's Hogs lost for the fifth week in a row. More important, the Razorbacks weren't even competitive for the second straight week. After South Carolina topped Arkansas 52-7 a week ago, Bielema's team fell to the two-time defending champions in similarly ugly fashion. The lack of depth on the roster and experience on the coaching staff has led to an 0-4 SEC start to Bielema's tenure. Next Week: Bye
Kentucky (3-4, 0-4): The Wildcats were off in Week 8, allowing some key injuries to heal up for first-year head coach Mark Stoops. Kentucky will play six straight weekends and will have plenty of chances for upsets against beatable teams. Next Week: at Mississippi State
SEC Week 8 Recap and Awards
Offensive Player of the Week: Tre Mason, Auburn
Mason was one of the bright spots for Auburn during a dismal 2012 season, rushing for 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns on a healthy 5.9-yard average. Mason is once again having a fine season, but his play is being overshadowed by his team’s first-year coach (Gus Malzahn) and starting quarterback (Nick Marshall). On Saturday, Mason rushed for a career-high 178 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries to lead Auburn to a thrilling 45-41 win at Texas A&M. Mason’s lone touchdown, on a 5-yard run, put Auburn on top for good with 1:48 remaining.
Defensive Player of the Week: Michael Sam, Missouri
Missouri beat Florida 36-17 in Maty Mauk’s first start at quarterback, but the story of the day was the Tigers’ surprisingly dominant defense. Defensive end Michael Sam recorded three sacks — to increase his SEC-leading total to 9.0 — to spearhead a Mizzou defense that limited Florida to 151 yards of offense. Sam also leads the SEC with 13.0 tackles for a loss.
Team of the Week: Tennessee
After flirting with a breakthrough win two weeks against Georgia, Tennessee rallied to beat South Carolina in Knoxville, giving first-year coach Butch Jones his first signature win. The Vols’ offense struggled for much of the day — UT only averaged 4.2 yards per play — but they made a big play at the right time (see MarQuez North below) to win the game. Tennessee’s defense held South Carolina to 384 yards and three touchdowns, one week after the Gamecocks had 537 yards in a 52-7 win at Arkansas.
Coordinator of the Week: Bob Shoop, Vanderbilt
Yes, Georgia was short-handed due to injury, but Vanderbilt deserves credit for holding the Bulldogs to 221 yards of offense — their fewest since gaining 200 in a loss to Virginia Tech in the 2006 Chik-fil-A Bowl — and two offensive touchdowns in a 31-27 win in Nashville. The Commodores had allowed an average of 530.3 yards in their previous three SEC games. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who averaged 287.7 yards in his first three games against Vanderbilt, was held to 114 yards — the second-fewest of his career — on 28 attempts.
Freshman of the Week: Marquez North, Tennessee
Sometimes a game comes down to one player making a great play. And that’s what North did in Tennessee’s 23-21 win over South Carolina. With the Vols trailing 21-20 and facing a 3rd-and-10 from their own 35-yard line with under three minutes to go, North made a spectacular 48-yard catch (with one hand) down the sideline that set Tennessee up for the game-winning field goal. North, a true freshman, caught three passes for 102 yards — the first 100-yard game of his career.
• Alabama has allowed one touchdown or less in five of seven games this season and in 40 of 61 games dating back to the beginning of the 2009 season.
• Last year, Auburn had a total of 1,881 yards in eight SEC games (235.5 ypg). This season, under first-year coach Gus Malzahn, the Tigers have 1,886 yards in four SEC games (471.5 ypg).
• LSU’s Zach Mettenberger threw three interceptions in the first half against Ole Miss; he had thrown a total of two in his first seven games.
• Florida averaged 2.5 yards per snap in its 36–17 loss at Missouri. The Gators have had seven games with under 4.0 yards per snap in Will Muschamp’s two-plus seasons as the head coach. They had three such games in 2010, Urban Meyer’s final season, and none from 2007-09.
• Bo Wallace threw for 346 yards in Ole Miss’ 27-24 win over LSU, and, more important, did not throw an interception in 39 attempts. Last year, Wallace threw for 310 yards but was intercepted three times in the Rebels’ 41-35 loss in Baton Rouge.